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Allergies and intolerances to food can cause skin disease in dogs, although insect bite, plant and pollen allergies are more common. They can occur from a very young age or start in adulthood (some animals have eaten a particular food for up to 2 years before showing signs of intolerance to that food).

The most common foods implicated when a food intolerance is suspected are beef, chicken, dairy products, wheat, corn and soya. Skin reactions to allergenic foods can occur within hours to days after eating. The most common signs are itchiness, red ears and ear infections, chronic and recurrent skin infections, and gastrointestinal upsets.

The only way to prove that food is contributing to the problem is to conduct a food elimination trial. This involves eliminating all foods your pet usually eats and providing a new source of simple foods over a set period of time, then reassessing your pet's health. If this trial is successful, ie your pet improves, other food sources can be introduced one at a time until the illness recurs - this permits identification of the food or foods causing the illness.

Start with a source of protein that your pet has not eaten (or has rarely eaten) previously, eg one of kangaroo, lamb or duck plus a source of carbohydrate, eg rice, and feed this combination as the ONLY source of food for a period of 4-8 weeks. If your pet's condition is well controlled at the end of this period, introduce other single sources of protein at 7 day intervals.

It is vital that you ensure your pet has no access to any other food, treats or toys containing animal proteins (eg hide, chews) during the trial period.

It is useful to keep a record of when and what foods are introduced and a grading of your pet's condition ie on a scale of 0 - 10 where 0 = ideal and 10 = active severe disease. This ensures that the minimum period of elimination is followed, and that you have an objective guide as to whether or not the condition has improved, deteriorated or is the same.

Once you can confidently identify foods that cause a problem, devise a diet as varied as possible that excludes that food. There are some commercially prepared prescription 'hypoallergenic' diets that may be appropriate for your pet.

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